Newcastle return for McLaren as Rams face biggest test

Derby County climbed into the play-off places on Tuesday night, following an impressive 3-0 win against Ipswich Town at Portman Road.

Goals from Craig Bryson, Tom Ince, and Darren Bent, kept up their phenomenal form under Steve McClaren, and they have only lost three times since he returned to the club in October.

This is a remarkable feat, considering how the club started the season under Nigel Pearson, with McClaren restoring the confidence and ability in the side just as he did in 2013.

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However, Saturday’s game against second place Newcastle is the Rams’ biggest test this season, and it will be one McClaren will want to pass.

McClaren was seen as the main reason why Newcastle were relegated last season, as he endured a torrid time as manager, winning only seven games during his nine month reign and overpaying for players such as Jonjo Shelvey and Alexander Mitrovic.

He seemed doomed from the start with fans and pundits alike criticising him, pointing out how he had failed to get Derby promoted, and after an horrendous 3-1 defeat at home to Bournemouth he was dismissed.

Newcastle as a club have bounced back, with Rafa Benitez’s men being in the top two for most the season as they and Brighton seem to pull away from the chasing pack.

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As shown by Derby’s form, however, McClaren has also bounced back from his nightmare spell at St James Park, and Derby will look to continue this on Saturday.

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Newcastle are capable of slipping up, as shown by home defeats to Wolves, Sheffield United, and Blackburn this season; and Derby have the players capable of doing the job, with Tom Ince’s recent form catching the eye of Rafa Benitez in the transfer window.

Also despite his comical own goal against Leicester, Darren Bent is also in good form, and having previously played for Sunderland, he will also be looking to stick the knife into Newcastle.

It will be McClaren, though, who will most want the win against his former employers on Saturday, not only to show them that he has moved on, but also to silence the critics who claim that Derby are not yet ready for the Premier League.

If they can leave Tyneside with three points, those doubts will disappear.